museum day

I was fed up with everything the other day and decided I needed to go see the revamped Greek and Roman hall at the Metropolitan. Once there, I faced momentary sticker shock ($20) but reminded myself that the splendors of the ancient world were probably worth it. The Greek hall and the new Roman atrium area (site of the long-ago restaurant; hard to believe Dorothy Draper was ever there!) are soaring, beautiful, sky-lit spaces. Somehow they managed to envelope school groups and seniors and cranky babies and unruly throngs in a delicate calm. Sunlight gave the marble a beatific glow. I saw Cycladic and early Geometric Greek, Classical Greek, and Late Hellenistic, Early Roman, Classical Roman, and Late Roman, and, up on the mezzanine, a jumble of Etruscan for good measure. I also saw Tate Donovan, late of "the OC."

It is difficult to reconcile the (my) stereotypical notion of the Classical World: white, measured, Golden Mean, moderation in all things– with much evidence to the contrary. Polychromed, gilded, bawdy—the ancient world was loud in every sense of the word. Classical statuary, I would say, is quiet, pensive— even
the heroic athletes or combatant youths. All the more so because it's often fragmentary and the viewer, receiving partial information, must pause and imagine. Objects like the colorful vase and box or the peculiar ring of painted ladies or even the fey fellow with wings (images above) seem to sing or laugh or cackle... {That "angel" really struck me— I don't think I've ever seen ancient winged adult figures, have I? Babies or sphinxes or harpies but not youths.}

Another thing I never truly noticed before was how mutable form was for the Greeks and Romans et al. Again, this flies in the face of the measured, symmetrical rationality that supposedly defines the Greeks. Double-faced ("janiform") heads, heads split down the center (like that astounding ram-donkey headed drinking cup), human figures sprouting horses, extra heads or an accretion of limbs. Vases in the shape of legs, heads, phalluses, birds, even lobster claws (above). It's as though corporeal form, for them, was a transient state: often recorded, in bronze or terra cotta, in mid-transformation...
That tremendous bronze statue of Some Later Roman Emperor (I was bad with recording what it was I was looking at) was
so ludicrous, so ghastly, I was embarrassed for it. Ungainly, oafish and truly cringe-worthy it was as though some crazy uncle finally went unhinged and took off his clothes at Thanksgiving dinner.
Some things are just so powerful in their fragmentary state (hand holding a rod, above) I think the whole would be somewhat disappointing.
Finally I wended my way to
the dour comfort of the Northern Renaissance to see some Old favorites when I came upon a man (and woman) wearing the tightest jeans I have ever seen. But what nearly floored me were his white kid skin dance shoes, which, back in the day, were generically called "Capezios." These two were studying a Bosch-inspired landscape so intently they didn't notice me gaping and snickering.
I laughed out loud at this particular Christ ascending into heaven, which I don't suppose was the desired effect. But really, it's as though stage hands were sloppily hoisting him from the frame...

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